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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Rep. sparks home-schooled– social-media skirmish

By DAVE SOLOMON
State House Bureau

November 18. 2017 11:30PM




NEW HAMPSHIRE’S looming battle over legislation to impose new oversight on home schooling has gone national, and a Democratic state representative has found herself in the cross hairs of a social media blitzkrieg.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Rep. Marjorie Porter, D-Hillsborough. “I’ve heard of things like this happening to other people and it’s awful. I’ve been doing this a while, and this is the first time this has happened to me. I was totally taken by surprise because I started getting nasty emails and comments on my Facebook page.”

The twitter hashtags and handles followed by the home-schooling community exploded with hostile comments directed at the assistant Democratic floor leader and four-term state rep. after she was accused of describing home schooling as child abuse.

Websites like Conservative Angle, Planet Free Will, and World Net Daily all carried headlines similar to this one from Infowars: “New Hampshire lawmaker equates homeschooling to child abuse; Nanny state measures to be pushed on parents.”

The bill at issue, HB 1263, would restore the requirement for some kind of third-party review of student progress that was eliminated by a law that took effect in 2012. In cases where home-schooled students don’t show adequate progress, the state would have the authority to require the child to be assigned to a public school.

But Porter has nothing to do with that bill, and claims a statement she made at an Oct. 26 committee meeting has been misrepresented.

Porter was substituting for fellow Democratic Rep. Jim MacKay on the Health and Human Services Committee when it voted 12-8 along party lines to recommend against a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for gay youth.

During the debate, opponents of the ban argued the practice is not widespread in New Hampshire, and the law is unnecessary.

“My comment was that if there is a pastor who can offer conversion therapy, and parents who want it, if they were home schooling there would be nobody to stand up and report it,” she said.

“I may have at some point referenced a case I knew about personally where there was significant abuse in a home-schooling situation and when it was brought to light it was horrifying. But I never said all home-schoolers.”

Rep. William Marsh, R-Wolfeboro, objected to Porter’s comments and she later apologized.

“She did come up to me afterwards and apologize,” Marsh said. “And I’m fine with that, because I don’t think she intended to disparage home schooling as much as is being represented. Social media has a life of its own. I have no problem with Marjorie.”

The incident illustrates how emotionally charged the debate will be when hearings on HB 1263 get underway.

A national home-schooling advocacy group, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), and its local supporters got the word out about the Porter dust-up, which then went viral.

The speed and intensity of the response is a good indication of what lies ahead as this bill works its way through committee after the start of the new year.

Chief sponsor Rep. Robert Theberge, R-Berlin, has yet to respond to media requests to discuss the bill, nor has he returned calls and emails from home- schooling supporters.

“I personally reached out to Rep. Theberge,” says Michael P. Donnelly, attorney and director of global outreach for the HSLDA. “In an email, I invited him to contact me to discuss the legislation.”

Rep. Theberge wrote back, "Mike, I find your email extremely unprofessional and any further correspondence will be deleted. RLT"

A full copy of Donnelly’s email is linked to this column at unionleader.com. You can read it for yourself and decide if there’s anything so offensive as to merit the brushoff from Theberge.

Referring to Theberge’s eight terms in the House, Donnelly writes, “I suspect that this means you remember the days of (Reps.) Emma Rouse and Judith Day and the upheaval that was caused by their legislation that sought to impose additional and unreasonable government interference with homeschooling families. If possible we would like to avoid a repetition of this type of disturbance.”

He was referring to a 324-34 vote in 2010 that resoundingly rejected legislation very similar to what is being proposed today.

With Republican majorities in the House and Senate and a vocal school choice advocate in Gov. Chris Sununu, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome this time around.


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